I feel quite angry and am on a mission to save our front gardens.
Yet another front garden in our road disappeared this morning and by the end of the day was turned into a parking space. The Victorian Sussex stone wall has been knocked down and the shrubs removed.
This trend of doing away with the front garden in our road started last year with a couple of neighbours digging up their garden to make way for cars. Even with only a few gardens turned into driveways it makes it harder to find somewhere to park. In turn, other neighbours have their drives paved and before you know it we have a domino effect. It also means that it’s especially difficult for guests to find a parking place on the road.
If you buy a property in a suburban road with street parking only you should know what to expect. We all like to park our cars outside our own homes and feel irritated if we have to leave the car down the road and trudge back to our homes with our shopping. Is the desire to step out of the car immediately outside our front door really so necessary that we are driven to demolish lovely Victorian stone walls and remove a small part of land in front of our house which contained shrubs and a home to wildlife?
Replacing attractive shrubs and flowers with a driveway can make your house look less attractive if you’re not careful about the driveway design. We have a total hotchpotch of driveways and the visual appearance and character of our neighbourhood is totally changing. There are entire streets of Victorian terraced housing that have lost their grass and seasonal blooms, all because of the need to have our cars right outside our own homes.
There are some (not in my road though) who have carefully designed their parking area and tried not to do too much damage to the environment by ensuring that shrubs and some grass remains. The RHS have published a sustainable gardening leaflet called Garden Matters – Front Gardens which gives planting ideas and paving suggestions. The leaflet carries a comment from Rebecca Matthew Joyce, the RHS Principal Environmental Advisor.
“Front Gardens bring so much colour into our lives –
Who prefers to look at concrete?”
The loss of front gardens is also damaging to the environment. Front lawns provide a vital natural sponge for rainwater in urban areas, without them, rain simply runs off driveways, increasing the likelihood of floods and flash flooding especially if there is an antiquated sewerage system.
Fewer trees also mean a loss of habitat for birds, insects etc., so there are fewer birds in the vicinity. Front gardens, though often small compared with back gardens, can nevertheless make a difference to the amount of wildlife an area can support. The decline in sparrows has been linked to paving front gardens.
Other concerns are:
- The loss of sunlight-absorbing plants can intensify the ‘heat island effect‘, making our towns several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.
- There are fewer barriers to wind, leading to higher levels of dust and hence particulate air pollution.
- Using front gardens for parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially children, as cars drive and reverse across pavements.
- Hard paving can cause severe subsidence as it reduces or stops rainfall getting into the ground
More important is that there is faster through-traffic on a road that is widened by the lack of parked cars.
Local councils have to give permission and arrange for the kerb to be lowered at a cost of around £800. They are making millions of pounds a year. Homeowners usually have to pay a fee to submit an application form. Most Councils insist that this work is be done by council staff or an approved contractor.
Unfortunately alterations to front gardens are ‘permitted development’, meaning that planning approval is not required and therefore the Council has little or no control over the creation of forecourt parking.
Planning permission is not needed if a new or replacement driveway of any size uses permeable (or porous) surfacing which allows water to drain through, such as gravel, permeable concrete block paving or porous asphalt, or if the rainwater is directed to a lawn or border to drain naturally. If the surface to be covered is more than five square metres planning permission will be needed for laying traditional, impermeable driveways that do not provide for the water to run to a permeable area.
Our front gardens are disappearing at an accelerating rate. It’s time to raise our heads above the parapet and make it quite clear to Borough Council and County Council planning departments that continuing to allow the removal of front gardens to make way for paving areas for parking, is destroying our environment.
There is a legal precedent established by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, invoking the Highways Act 1980 to refuse crossover applications on the grounds that they reduce the amount of parking available to the community as a whole. This would halt the Domino Effect and save many front gardens which will otherwise inevitably be turned into car parks in future.
If we don’t do something soon our road will just be a line of driveways.